Pondering fishing’s grand questions between ice and open-water seasons
As we move into the back half of March, ice angling has wrapped up for much of the country and serious hard-water angling, even for ice-out crappies, still is several weeks away. So let’s consider fishing’s bigger questions to boost your confidence for soft water 2018.
New anglers often ask me, “What can I do to consistently catch fish?” To become a productive angler, there are no shortcuts like magic lures or baits, colors, or secret spots. First, understand fish species and seasonal movements (calendar periods). Learn what lakes and rivers have to offer in edges, cover, structure, food locations, and predators. Fishing success only occurs via experience on the water or ice.
Every trip needs to teach us new facets of completing the fishing puzzle so that the correct pieces fall into place. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Another piece of advice I frequently offer is to focus on one species at a time, not “whatever bites.” Choose lures, rods, line, and baits to match fish mood, which is affected by fishing pressure, weather, and water conditions. Pre-rig your rods before venturing out. Pick four to six spots before launching your boat, and consider structure, edges, calendar periods and likely forage sources.
We build confidence with lures but also equipment, location, and all aspects of a trip. When you catch a fish, ask yourself, “Why did that fish bite? What was it doing there?” Be patient. Arrive early and stay late. The more time on the water, the more we learn.
Sometimes we think fish are brilliant at outsmarting us. Understand that fish react to their surrounding environment via smell, sound, vibration, feel, taste, and sight. Fish definitely learn through negative or positive associations. For instance, they avoid situations that suggest danger, like being hooked twice.
We need to understand their response to learning and instinct. Time on the water improves our success if we monitor what fish are doing and what attracts them to an area or zone. For instance, some species rely more on taste and smell while others rely more on sight, sound, and vibration. Fishing pressure, weather, water clarity, and temperature also influence how we approach these tactics.
They will become less sensitive to constant noise like busy boat traffic. Fish recognize prey – and whether to eat or avoid it – by sight, feel, smell, and the taste test. Fish relate to preferred locations for foraging during the open-water period by following migration routes: either shallow, deep, or in between.
Always understand the biology of the specific species you’re pursuing. Sight, taste, sound, lateral line, color, and bait size are factors along with location, moods, weather, calendar periods, and fishing pressure. Accept that conditions on all lakes and rivers are ever-changing. No body of water is identical in cover, structure, water conditions, and food. We can’t really think like a fish, but we must relate to their natural characteristics. We’ll cover efficiency in an upcoming tip. That’s a key part of the equation toward increasing success.
Another thought: Avoid “fishing history.” Anglers return to the same locations time after time. If action is slow or the fish aren’t biting, they quickly leave. Believe me, fish are active somewhere on that lake. Species move due to food, the calendar, angling pressure, weed growth, water levels, and temperature. Via your electronics, find an area you haven’t tried before. History also applies to lures or baits. Experiment with other techniques and presentations.
Finally, the most common mistake I see is guys who, before even unloading their boat, assume they won’t find aggressive fish. Therefore, their attitude, technique, and entire presentations correspond to tough-bite situations. If you expect marginal action all day, you’ll grow complacent. Instead, rig first with larger-profile lures with more action and increase speeds to launch a day of steady action. Have options available to try subtle methods if necessary later.
You’ll never know if fish are aggressive if you don’t try them first.